It’s the topic we don’t want to discuss, but one that must be confronted soon. Just who will succeed Paul Gallagher in the Preston midfield?
Gallagher is arguably North End’s player of the season. His quality on the ball is unrivalled, whilst also providing some of the attributes that come with a 17-year pro career; experience, composure and leadership.
Preston would not have been half as successful this season without Gallagher. It’s often said that some players get better with age, and it couldn’t be truer than with Gallagher. He was consistent and reliable during the injury crisis. He’s racked up six goals and seven assists this season. He’s played in a host of midfield positions. Quite simply, he’s been the star man in Alex Neil’s side whilst surrounded by talented players 10 years his junior – or more.
Gallagher has another year to go at Deepdale, but the clock is ticking. He turns 35 in August, and whilst his fitness levels are frankly incredible for a player his age, North End need to be thinking about succession plans.
Currently, there is no player with Gallagher’s skill set at Deepdale. Jack Baxter and Adam O’Reilly have potential, but they’re not quite like Gallagher. A player with the ability to pick passes from deep, create for teammates, provide moments of quality in the final third and pose a threat from set pieces is needed once Gallagher fades.
One player who ticks some of those is Liam Henderson – a player North End wanted to sign in 2017.
Henderson was struggling for playing time at Celtic, and North End’s Joe Savage knew him from Parkhead. Bizarrely though, the 22-year-old moved to Italy, joining Bari in a shock move. Bari’s Sean Sogliano then told the Daily Record that Bari had pipped North End to his signature – for just £115,000.
That’s the sort of bargain North End love, but for whatever reason, just couldn’t pull off. Henderson moved on to Serie B side Hellas Verona last summer, notching three goals and four assists this season. The Scot is earning rave reviews for his displays, whilst being praised for taking a gamble in heading to Italy instead of England.
His ability on the ball, and from set pieces, mean he makes sense as a potential Gallagher heir – and that may well be why Preston wanted him in the first place. Keeping Henderson on the radar would be a smart decision, even if he’ll cost much more than that £115,000 fee now.
Henderson may well prove to be one that got away for North End, but as he’s currently in Italy’s second tier, hope is not lost. North End can offer first-team football to Henderson as Gallagher’s heir, and players often respect when a manager chases them for a prolonged period.
The videos below show some of Henderson’s shooting, set piece and crossing ability. Having missed out almost two years ago, North End need to consider Henderson again, with a Gallagher successor becoming a real priority.